Affordable textbooks for all

Sen. Al Franken sponsored a new bill that may be the solution students have been asking for.

Luis Ruuska

 

 Although the current top concern of most students is to make it through finals week, they’ll have a not-so-new problem come 2014: the price of text­books.

An American Enterprise Institute reported that the cost of textbooks has risen 812 per­cent since 1978. Today’s stu­dents shell out an average of $1,200 per year for textbooks and supplies. If you think that’s appalling, then prepare to balk at the fact that Minnesota stu­dents pay $200 more than that on average.

Sensing the plight of stu­dents in their respective states, U.S. Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., recently introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, seeking to curb textbook costs throughout public high­er education.

The bill would primarily cre­ate a grant program that would support “open textbook” pilot programs at colleges and uni­versities.

Open textbooks are text­books under an open copy­right license that instructors can legally edit and distrib­ute to their students for free — though not for commercial purposes. This allows profes­sors to shape a text to fit a course’s needs.

The University of Min­nesota created its own online open textbook library last year. Although the selection of available texts is still small, the program could be eligible to receive additional grant funding under Durbin and Franken’s bill.

The University has seen success with its open textbook library. College of Education and Human Development di­rector of academic technology David Ernst told the Minne­sota Daily that CEHD students saved about $145,000 over three semesters.

The presidents of the Min­nesota Student Association and Graduate and Professional Stu­dent Assembly supported the Affordable College Textbook Act in a Nov. 25 Minnesota Daily letter to the editor, saying textbook prices hurt student achievement.

Under the act, universities and colleges receiving grant money would have to ensure that all textbooks created with grant funds are free and acces­sible to the public.

Furthermore, the bill would also require grant-receiving institutions to report on the ef­fectiveness of these pilot pro­grams to lift financial pressure from students.

The bill would also focus on the textbook industry, which is ultimately responsible for prices limiting publishers from selling textbooks and other ma­terials in bundles.

This is an important provi­sion, as many courses simply require students to purchase an online access code for a website. Publishers could bundle these codes with text­books and online versions of textbooks to raise prices.

Since publishers typically limit access codes to a single use for a semester, students must keep textbooks or sell them back for a fraction of the original price.

The bill would prevent this decidedly shady business prac­tice, saving students money on materials they may not need or want.

I wrote a column earlier this semester about textbook pi­racy, which is becoming all too common for students looking to avoid being gouged on text­books. The bill should reduce piracy, because it discourages students from resorting to these dire options.

Other members of Con­gress should listen to their peers and work toward creat­ing affordable textbooks for all.